West Virginia is a pro-life state. Polls consistently show that a majority of West Virginians oppose abortion, and that view is reflected by the state’s lawmakers.
Most members of the House of Delegates and the Senate are pro-life, but there are degrees of that view. While some are adamantly against abortion, others know they must be pro-life to win election, but would rather not take up abortion bills during the session.
And it’s that dynamic that is at play under the Capitol dome as the abortion issue moves to the front of the line for the final week of the 60-day session next week.
Not even abortion opponents could have expected what happened in the House. A Republican maneuver earlier in the session ultimately forced a vote in the full House on HB 4588 that blocks abortions after 20 weeks, the point when abortion foes argue a fetus can feel pain.
The bill passed overwhelmingly 79-17 Tuesday, as a number of Democrats, worried about re-election, wanted a green light (the ‘yes’ vote on the tally board) next to their names. Only the most liberal members of the House voted “no.”
So the bill now goes to the Senate which, like the House, is predominantly pro-life. Senate President Jeff Kessler, who is pro-life, instructed his team to work the bill, starting first in the Health Committee.
Chairman Ron Stollings (D-Boone) is considered pro-life, but abortion is not one of his major issues. Stollings, who is also a medical doctor, has concerns about any legislation that potentially interferes in the doctor-patient relationship.
Also, Stollings is opposed to the bill’s penalty provisions which say that a doctor who performs an abortion after 20 weeks could be convicted of a felony and sent to prison. “Those draconian penalties would have a severe impact on women’s access to health care,” Stollings told me Wednesday.
If it passes the Senate Health Committee, the next stop is Judiciary. Chairman Corey Palumbo (D-Kanawha) is pro-choice, but he won’t be able to sit on the bill because of Kessler’s instructions.
Pro-life lobbyists, buoyed by the surprising developments in the House, will be working Senators hard in the coming days, trying to keep the pressure on now that the bill cannot be ignored.
But these final days are tricky; time and tempers get short. Contentious bills advance and recede like the tide and end up in House-Senate conference committees where sometimes differences cannot be resolved.
And occasionally controversial bills are guided to those conference committees to die because lawmakers simply do not want to have to cast a vote on them or against them.
The pro-life movement got a huge boost this week when the House passed HB 4588, but it’s still a long way to the finish line.
The Family Policy Council faithfully influences West Virginia’s laws, lawmakers and state elections to defend the constitutional right of religious freedom for families and churches. Family Policy Council of West Virginia is affiliated with Focus on the Family and CitizenLink.